Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Money Changes Everything

I hate money. Rather, I sometimes get squeamish talking about it. I think it's a very private thing and am surprised when people discuss it so openly. Despite all that, a recent comment about prenuptual agreements as neccessary evils got me thinking about the role money plays in relationships, so I'll try to move beyond my comfort zone.

Part of the reason I don't like money talk is because I view it in a similar light to personal hygene: it's the individual's responsibility to be reasonably clean and presentable to society and it's also up to the individual to sort out their finances. Yet somehow I have been in relationships where someone else's money problems became my own.

The first time was in college. I was 19, he was 32. We'll call him Moz, because he could give Morrissey a run for his money with his moping skills. Moz worked a part-time retail job and couldn't afford to move into his own place, so he lived with his ex-girlfriend-- I cringe just to see how bad this looks all written out (at the time, yes, I did believe they were fully broken up). Since his ex was a "psycho bitch" (his words, not mine), our dates had to be surreptitious, which made it all the more romantic. Man, was I one dumb 19-year-old.

Moz frequently whined about his cash flow dilemma. I wanted to help. I clipped job ads for him; he would find excuses not to follow up and the one time he actually set up an interview he blew it off. I tried to be patient, but it baffled me that I was able to manage my small allowance better than he was able to handle his part-time salary (bearing in mind he was living virtually rent-free). Whenever we went out, we always paid our own way, but once he even asked me to buy him dinner, because he had no money on him. I did so, but it felt a little odd for me, a jobless college student, to be paying for her employed, considerably older boyfriend. Obviously, Moz and I had other problems besides his irresponsibility with money, but it ended up being the factor that made me stop seeing him. This wasn't a man who wasn't able make his life line up right, it was a man who was too lazy to do so. Last I heard, he's still in retail and still chasing after much younger women.

Then there was Poet Paul. For the most part, we had a very healthy and copacetic relationship; he is one of two men who I have lived with.

Poet Paul warned me early on that his biggest flaw was money troubles. Not only $15,000 worth of debt (which isn't a big deal, because I had more than twice that after college), but his attitude toward money. If he had it, he spent it. Payday would come around and he'd splurge on gadgets, books, CD's, round after round of drinks for friends. Then a period of modest living would follow, until the next check. He was generous to the point where I became suspicious that some friends were taking advantage.

Due to some complicated circumstances, I had to move out and we continued our relationship as a long distance one (Poet Paul was not based in NYC). He would follow me to New York within a year, he promised, just as soon as he paid off his debt and saved up some money. Six months into the year, I asked if he was any closer to minimizing his debt. No, he wasn't. Was there any chance, realistically, that he'd make any headway by the end of the year? No, there wasn't. Which means he wouldn't be able to move to New York for a long while. In fact, I found out my mother secretly gave him a thousand dollars so that he could visit me. I ended the relationship, seeing that it was going nowhere. I couldn't believe the ultimate reason it failed was because of money. Speaking of which, despite his heartfelt promises, he never paid my mother back.

Then there's my last boyfriend, Business Owner Brian. When I found out BOB was his own boss, I thought I might have finally found someone who was careful with his money. After all, with an inconsistent income, he had to budget himself carefully, right? Well...

He and I moved in together (by my admission way too soon) and he quickly noticed that he made a calculation error in the money he projected to make. He was off by a couple of thousand dollars. I had just started a new job, where I was making a salary that provided for my basic needs and was considerably more money than my previous job (so it felt like more than it was). I certainly didn't have enough to support both of us for a month or two, though. However, I felt guilty being able to afford to go out to movies, bars, concerts, and restaurants, while he had to scrimp. I felt bad and wanted him to be able to have as much fun as I did. Once again, I also felt strange that this guy, who was a decade older than me and knew the intricacies of running a small business, needed me to give him cash. I gave BOB a few hundred dollars out of my savings for day-to-day expenses and demanded he not bring it up again and only pay me back if he wanted to, whenever. We broke up a month later. Once again, there were reasons beyond money, but financials ended up being the factor that pushed the relationship into final destruction. He never paid me back, either, but I don't really care about that.

In case I sound even vaguely self-righteous, let me state right now that I can be pretty careless with money. Even though my student loans are nearly paid off, my credit card debt is getting a little out of control and I use plastic to enjoy a much better life than my media salary would normally afford. I don't balance my checkbook. I have a 401k, but couldn't for the life of me tell you how much money is in there. This morning I checked my wallet to see how much cash I had because I had no idea if I might be down to my last twenty. When I go out with friends, the only thing I keep track of, spending-wise, is making sure I have enough money for a taxi home.

Despite all my own financial flaws, I have never made it a problem for anyone I was in a relationship with (and hopefully never will). I was unemployed for months while I lived with Poet Paul and always paid my way, never needing to borrow money from him.

What puzzles me, even more than the fact that men who earn more money than I do can suck so much at managing it, is how much it weighs on a relationship. It's one thing for two people to stop loving each other or betray each other somehow, but for a relationship to end because of money is ludicrous, yet it's happened to me several times now.

Despite getting burned time and time again, I still hate the idea of dating a rich guy (yet another unpopular opinion I hold). Lack of money can bring misery but having so much that you become way too smug and comfortable can bring even more misery. I think, ultimately, the idea of having a lot of money scares me, so I feel more comfortable with men who don't have much. Even so, is it too much to ask to organize your funds just a little bit better? I guess for some, it is...


Betty on the Beach said...

Thankfully, I've never dealt with a guy who would mooch. I can understand why discussing the topic of money makes you uneasy.

Sarah said...

Poet Pete? Poet Paul? Whoops!

Pseudonyms are hard to keep track of. ;)

pookalu said...

yeah, money issues complicate everything. outside of your own debt, must you really be beholden to someone else's, if you're not related by blood or marriage? if at all?

but your statement, "When I go out with friends, the only thing I keep track of spending-wise, is making sure I have enough money for a taxi home." totally rings true for me too. which is why i'm sucking this week until i get paid. not that i am in need of money, or that i don't have a little financial padding (that's relative, as a student), but man, the last time my account was this low was in college, when i bounced a couple of checks.

an ex was not very financially responsible -- one (of many) offense to me was when he told me he couldn't buy me a gift for my birthday, then two weeks later bought hundreds of dollars of play things for himself. not even a token gift for me.

ok, i'm rambling.

Dolly said...

Consider yourself lucky. It's such an unpleasant relationship obstacle.

Yeah, I didn't properly edit before posting. All fixed now!

What a rude thing of your ex to do! I will say, in Poet Paul's defense, that he was generous with everyone, myself included. But to do something as selfish as your ex did is just plain awful. Glad you moved on.

Sam Fisher said...

"I hate money"

I uttered the exact same words earlier this week when sorting bills and crap with the girlfriend. It’s not that either of us are tight with money, I just hate having to think about it.

As a result of this hating money I like to leave my card behind the bar so I don’t have to think about it while drinking for the night. However I've been saddened when on occasion friends have taken advantage. I love to buy rounds but hate to have them stolen. The most memorable time a friend was busted he ordered a round from the waitress, she came back 2 mins later and asked him rather loudly; "How exactly do you spell Fisher?"

This little story is now so well know in my group of friends that "How do you spell Fisher?" has become something of an insult if someone is suffering from short arms – deep pocket syndrome.

Elle said...

"A relationship to end because of money is ludicrous"

I think it's odd how money sneaks in to affect things even in an untraditional way. My last relationship ended largely because it didn't work long distance. And what dictated my long distance relationship? How much time and money both of us were willing to invest in seeing each other...both sad reasons for something to end, but unavoidable in our case.

Vespertine said...

Yep. My last relationship ended in part because of money as well. He lived beyond his means, and ultimately, beyond mine. In fact, he owes me about 7K, which I know I will never see, and have essentially written off.

My current man is a student, and I am an attorney-- clearly, there is a pretty deep financial gulf between us. But we don`t live together, and our bills (outside of groceries and going-out expenses) are separate. That being said, it is something that I think about.

I`d like to think that BF and I will make the step and move in together in the future, but I realize that money will find it`s way front and center if and when we do decide to move in.

I think the problem is that in love relationships, we want to be giving and unselfish. However, we also need our partners to hold up their end of the deal in order to prevent ourselves from being taken for a ride. This little syllogism proves true outside of financial contexts as well.

Therefore, if we can be hardliners on issues like monogamy and emotional support, we should be no less compromising when it comes to money. Is it a little harsh at times? Well, so long as everyone is carrying his or her own weight, no.

Nevertheless, I think the next time I head into a situation that involves mixing finances, I will take the hard line-- softened only by lots of communication.

pawlr said...

Having a partner with little money can be inconvenient but isn't insurmountable. A more difficult situation for me is to be with someone who doesn't have dreams or ambitions, or has them but isn't working towards them.

Lifestyle with BG said...

You definitely need to read The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason. I just finished reading it and it's awesome.

It basically explains how money works and how to deal with it effectively (and also how to deal with people who ask to borrow some money).

Really interesting book, the rules are told through stories set in the ancient city of Babylon

jo said...

money issues in relationships. how true. and sadly quite overlooked at times. i've never had problems handling money. i think it was 'coz since i was 7 years old, my parents gave me a monthly allowance that i managed all on my own. thankfully i've never gone out with guys who have severe money managing issues.

coasta said...

>a recent comment about prenuptual agreements as neccessary evils got me thinking about the role money

Wasn't trying to start a shitstorm with that one. :)

The thing about money or someone's viewpoint about money (or the way they conduct their finances) is that it is a reflection of each individual's character...a reflection of self.

So when someone has a poor way of dealing with reflects an aspect of themselves that you may not respect on some level. The particulars of each situation are different, but on some level there is dissonance.

Maybe it reflects how a people treat something valuable in their own lives....they might feel they don't deserve it. Maybe it reflects a lack of emotional maturity or control. Maybe their fear of failure or fear of success. How much they value their time. How much they feel they deserve in life...etc...

If a couples' individual attitudes around money aren't similar, then there will be probably be issues sooner or later. The attitudes can be different, as long as one person is open and willing to change.

alex berre said...

" having so much that you become way too smug and comfortable can bring even more misery"

I absolutely do not agree with that. I am 32, run my own small business, and have been living comfortable since 2 years. Life is just so much easier when you dont have to think if you can afford upgrading to a 4star the next vacation trip (or stay a few more days). If you have sufficient education, ethics and integrity there is no way that it will bring you to misery. I guarantee.

Come over to Spain sometime and the drinks are on me.

Dolly said...

How awful of your friends to take advantage. Money doesn't usually play as much of a role in friendships, but it does come up. I had a friend who didn't use me to such a sneaky extent, but was always broke and because I loved her company so much, often let me pay her way. However, when I needed her to be there for me as a friend, she bailed on me. In fact, she still owes me money, too, which she promised to repay, which I know I'll never see again. I think I just need to stop giving friends or boyfriends money I can barely spare to begin with.

I can relate to your situation so much. SO MUCH.

Wow, 7K! Not to sound all high and mighty, but how can a person take that much money from someone and not even attempt to pay it back? As for you and PhD boy, it sounds like you're both utterly smitten, so if you do move in together, I'm sure you can figure out other ways for him to earn his keep (wink wink, nudge nudge).

In dreams begin responsibilities.

Thanks for the recommendation!

Wow, you sound really clued in when it comes to managing your funds. I'm sure I could learn a thing or two from you. Actually, I don't know why they don't teach this sort of thing in school, it's so important. And it's not something we can always rely on parents to teach.

Hey, I think it's great that your comment inspired a whole other post and discussion. And you're right, an individual's relationship with money says a lot about their character. Though at the same time, money is something I hate to think about, but I certainly don't have an avoidant personality...

You said, "if you have sufficient education, ethics and integrity". That's a BIG "if". I haven't come across many rich people that have all of those characteristics, but if you are one of those people, that's terrific!

coasta said...

BTW....was the title of this entry a shout out to Cyndi Lauper? It took me a while for that one to hit.

Is it lame to admit you love Cyndi Lauper? I'm straight, have strong style, and am socially successful.....and I love Cyndi Lauper. I said it.

"When You Were Mine" is one of the best songs essential on all true 'best of' 80s music compilations.

coasta said...


We posted at the same i'll throw one more up there.

I would not say you had an avoidant personality either. Definitely not. You seem much more of a say Yes person.

I think it's not always a quick easy relationship between a character trait and money. You mentioned
"the idea of having a lot of money scares me, so I feel more comfortable with men who don't have much." This to me indicates that you might have some sort of fear of success. There's probably something else going on here, but just noticing.

I don't want to psychoanalyze you or be judgmental; the former because I only know you through this blog (hardly a complete representation) and the latter because there are entirely too many judgemental people on this planet (esp. in America).
I could be completely right or completely wrong. Probably somewhere in between.

something to think about i suppose.

Larissa said...

yeah i've said money doesn't matter for me, but i think it helps if you're on a somewhat equal level with your partner. i remember dating a guy who made significantly less than me -- which was fine -- but it started to become a strain when i was paying for the majority of our dates. i guess i'm a 50/50 type of girl.

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